SIR STIRLING MOSS, one of Formula One’s greatest ever racing drivers, has died at the age of 90 after a long illness.
He was one of the most iconic and brilliant racing drivers in the history of motorsport and passed away at his Mayfair home on Sunday morning with his wife by his bedside.
When I first met Sir Stirling, it was impossible not to be taken in by his charm.
A racing driver from the old school, he regaled tales of racing along the streets in Monaco at high speed yet he still found time to wave back to the pretty women in the crowd who had come to watch.
He spoke about his relationship with the great Juan Manuel Fangio and how he’d taken to driving around London in small electric car.
In fact, I did not think about it at the time, but that small car summed up Moss rather nicely. Small, eccentric and rather charming.
Moss won 212 of the 529 races he entered in a racing career from 1948 to 1962 but it was his achievements in Formula One that made him a household name, despite never having won the title.
Of the 66 F1 races he competed, Moss won 16 – it really should have been more but for the skills of Fangio and some awful mechanical reliability.
When Fangio retired in 1958, there was little doubt who was the best driver on the grid: a small bald gentleman from London who raced in a number of categories across the world.
Moss would compete in more than 60 races in a single year and, during his career, he drove 84 different manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Maserati, Ferrari and Aston Martin.
He was born in London and was the son of a dentist, who was also an amateur racing driver. He started racing in 1948 having saved up his winnings from competing in horse-riding events.
He had a lot of early success behind the wheel and progressed through the categories, including rallying.
His achievements had not gone unnoticed and in 1953 he was encouraged by Mercedes-Benz to join Formula One, yet not driving for the team. First, he had to impress them.
Moss purchased a Maserati 250F and raced in the 1954 season where he did catch the attention of Merc’s chiefs and was promptly offered a drive for the team the following year.
In 1955, he won his first F1 GP. Somewhat fittingly it was the British Grand Prix at Aintree, and the same year he also won the RAC Tourist Trophy, the Targa Florio endurance race and the 1,000-mile Mille Miglia in Italy.
Moss famously lost the F1 title in 1958 to fellow Brit Mike Hawthorn when he sportingly leapt to his rival’s defence and prevented him from being disqualified from the Portuguese GP for reversing up the pitlane. The upshot being Hawthorn kept his points, which proved enough to win the F1 crown.
His most notable success however, came in 1961 at Monaco where he beat the much-fancied Ferraris in his Lotus-Climax.
Moss’s career was cut short soon after when he suffered a crash while competing at Goodwood in 1962.
He lost control of his Lotus and crashed into a grass bank and was left in a coma for a month and suffering partial paralysis.
While he did try and mount a comeback six years later, he realised his concentration had gone.
His focus might have dwindled but his passion for racing never diminished.
I met him several years ago – before his illness had meant he retired from the public eye – and he spoke about Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel with such enthusiasm.
Moss and Hamilton once drove the Mercedes W196 car that he had dominated in during the 1950s with the current world champion finding a new level of respect for his peer.
As for Moss, F1 had changed a lot since he had won at Aintree, yet he still was a regular viewer, saying that he’d still watch every race on TV.
At the time he told me: “When I raced at Silverstone, because I was young, one of the things that I liked about it was it was dangerous.
How old was Stirling Moss and what was the F1 legend’s cause of death?
“Now it’s very safe and that’s not a bad thing, obviously it has to be a good thing.
“If you have got a really good modern Formula One car, I think there is a lot of excitement and interest. It’s just a different one to the one when I drove.”
And that’s the point. The cars are different. The sport is different. The drivers are different. And there will certainly never be another one quite like Sir Stirling.